My initial approach with the Brandon Inge news tonight was the same as any minor league signing: acknowledge that it happened and move on. Danny Knobler reported that the Pirates are close to a minor league deal with Inge, who turns 36 this season. Like 99% of minor league deals, this one comes with no risk, and a small chance to provide some sort of reward. For that reason, there’s not much point in analyzing what Inge could do for the Pirates in 2013. Chances are he’ll spend time in Triple-A, and if he does make the majors, he’s not going to make much of an impact.
In looking over his stats, I noticed that Inge has a platoon split. He crushes left-handers, but struggles against right-handers. I thought about how the Pirates have a few left-handed platoon options, but really only have one right-handed platoon option. That option is Gaby Sanchez, who will be platooning at first base this year with Garrett Jones. Then I thought about a potential platoon on the other side of the diamond.
Last year at this time there was a debate on where Pedro Alvarez should have started the season: Triple-A or the majors. You don’t hear much of that debate following Alvarez’s 30 home run season in 2012. Now the conversation is on whether Alvarez can improve on his 2012 numbers. He had the power, with 30 homers and a .467 slugging percentage in 525 at-bats. What he didn’t have was the average. Alvarez hit for a .244 average with a .317 OBP. He also struck out way too much, sitting at 30% for the third year in a row.
Charlie wrote about the strikeouts a few days ago, and looked at some comparable players who have had similar strikeout numbers to what Alvarez saw in 2012 (180 strikeouts). The results weren’t encouraging, and don’t give much hope that Alvarez can improve his ratios and see an increase to his average in the future.
Is Pedro Alvarez a platoon player?
Aside from the strikeout problems, it’s pretty well documented that Alvarez struggles against left-handers. Last year he had a .207/.270/.379 line in 140 at-bats against left-handers. That’s compared to a .257/.334/.499 line in 385 at-bats against right-handers. In his career, Alvarez has a .247/.321/.454 line against right-handers and a .209/.281/.353 line against right-handers. The overall numbers against right-handers are low, mostly because Alvarez couldn’t hit anyone in 2011.
The addition of Inge, his platoon splits, his ability to play third base (career 6.8 UZR/150), and Alvarez’s struggles against left-handers got me thinking about the idea of platooning Alvarez. I’m not necessarily saying Brandon Inge should be the guy for the job. I’m looking at this more in a general “Should Pedro Alvarez be in a Platoon” way.
To start the debate, let’s look at the career platoon splits of Alvarez next to an established platoon player.
Pedro Alvarez: .209/.281/.353 in 292 AB vs LHP
Player A: .210/.249/.381 in 328 AB vs LHP
The stat lines are almost identical. Alvarez has a higher on-base percentage, the mystery player hit for more power, and the end result is that they both had an OPS around .630 against left-handers.
Player A is Garrett Jones through the 2010 season.
That’s how long the Pirates gave Jones before they determined he was a platoon player. They brought in Matt Diaz for the 2011 season, Casey McGehee in 2012, and Gaby Sanchez for 2013. So far Jones has done his part in the platoon by hitting right-handers, and every time he’s seen an increased role against left-handers he has struggled.
It’s pretty much accepted that Jones is a platoon player. So why haven’t we accepted the same thing from Alvarez after the same overall results in the same amount of playing time? I think Alvarez can settle in as a Carlos Pena/Mark Reynolds type player — hitting for a lot of power, but putting up a low average in the process. One thing that drives his average down is his inability to hit left-handers. If you added a platoon player who could replicate his power against left-handers, while hitting for a better average or getting on-base at a higher rate, then you’d add value from the third base position. The value wouldn’t be coming from Alvarez, but that’s not important.
A guy like Brandon Inge would be the perfect complement to Alvarez in a platoon. Inge has a career .791 OPS against left-handers. He’s got a .194 ISO, which is better than Alvarez’s .144 ISO against lefties (.172 in 2012). He plays good defense at third, and can serve as a bench bat and backup infielder during the time that Alvarez is starting.
The downside is that if you turn Alvarez into a platoon player now, he’s got no chance of improving against lefties. He’s seen some improvements with his power against left-handers over the last three years.
That was a big jump in 2012, and his OPS was .648, which was right around where it was in 2010 (again, he couldn’t hit anyone in 2011). So how do we know that’s the ceiling? What if Alvarez improves again in 2013? If he saw another improvement, he could become passable against left-handers just on his power alone.
The reason I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Inge is because he has a Matt Diaz look to him. Diaz had good career numbers against lefties, but was coming off a down year when he came to the Pirates. He then proceeded to struggle against left-handers in 2011. Inge has good career numbers, but wasn’t close to those numbers in 2012. He had a .209/.276/.417 line. The ISO was better than Alvarez, but the OPS was only 50 points better. I’m not sure that a 50 point difference in OPS over about 100-200 at-bats is worth benching Alvarez. The Pirates would be better off waiting to see if Alvarez continues his upward trend of power against lefties. In the mean time, they can keep Inge in Triple-A or on the bench in the majors to see if he can still hit left-handed pitchers.
If Alvarez doesn’t show any improvements against left-handers, or starts to fall from his 2012 power numbers, then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start considering a platoon. Alvarez would still be able to provide an impact going up against right-handers, but a platoon in that situation would allow the Pirates to upgrade the at-bats where Alvarez would normally be struggling against lefties.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. The 2013 Annual is also available for pre-sales. Go to the products page of the site and order your 2013 books today!
**Spring Training 2013 Position Battles: Right Field.
**Pirates Close to Deal With Brandon Inge.